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Shannon C. Sibrel, Ragini Rathore, Laurent Lessard, Karen B. Schloss; The relation between color and spatial structure for interpreting colormap data visualizations. Journal of Vision 2020;20(12):7. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.12.7.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Interpreting colormap visualizations requires determining how dimensions of color in visualizations map onto quantities in data. People have color-based biases that influence their interpretations of colormaps, such as a dark-is-more bias—darker colors map to larger quantities. Previous studies of color-based biases focused on colormaps with weak data spatial structure, but color-based biases may not generalize to colormaps with strong data spatial structure, like “hotspots” typically found in weather maps and neuroimaging brain maps. There may be a hotspot-is-more bias to infer that colors within hotspots represent larger quantities, which may override the dark-is-more bias. We tested this possibility in four experiments. Participants saw colormaps with hotspots and a legend that specified the color-quantity mapping. Their task was to indicate which side of the colormap depicted larger quantities (left/right). We varied whether the legend specified dark-more mapping or light-more mapping across trials and operationalized a dark-is-more bias as faster response time (RT) when the legend specified dark-more mapping. Experiment 1 demonstrated robust evidence for the dark-is-more bias, without evidence for a hotspot-is-more bias. Experiments 2 to 4 suggest that a hotspot-is-more bias becomes relevant when hotspots are a statistically reliable cue to “more” (i.e., the locus of larger quantities) and when hotspots are more perceptually pronounced. Yet, comparing conditions in which the hotspots were “more,” RTs were always faster for dark hotspots than light hotspots. Thus, in the presence of strong spatial cues to the locus of larger quantities, color-based biases still influenced interpretations of colormap data visualizations.
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